In April 2016 a 39 year old woman suffered head injuries after she fell into a 30ft (nine metre) deep garden well whilst viewing an empty property arranged through an estate agent.
The court heard that the woman stepped onto a wooden board placed over the well which gave way. The Health and Safety Executive found that the estate agent had been warned about the well and the board which covered it as being unsafe, but the action taken was inadequate.
As a result, the woman suffered concussion after being submerged into the water. She also suffered post traumatic stress caused by the fall which could have easily resulted in a fatality.
The estate agent pleaded guilty to breaching section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and were fined £200,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2474.
Employers must identify the health and safety risks associated with their work activities, not only to protect their employees but also members of the public including customers and clients. Once the risks have been identified then action must be taken to ensure those risks are sufficiently managed, taking practical steps to control them.
As part of identifying the risks, businesses are required to ensure they have a robust health and safety management system in place. This requirement was something that was found inadequate with the estate agent court case.
A safety management system includes having policies and procedures in place to ensure a safe working environment, the work activities involved are performed safely and risk assessments are prepared and regularly reviewed. For example, some other key risks for estate agents would include travelling on business, work-related driving, lone working, visiting other premises, etc. The safety management system should also include training requirements for staff to ensure they understand the health and safety basics, they are aware of the risks associated with their work activities and how to manage them effectively.
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